Saturday, 19 February 2011

Jaisalmer: the desert festival

Camels raced through sand dunes, mustachioed men twirled their wiry lip fringes, whilst Mr. Desert 2011 nonchalantly watched on wearing his prized tabard. Jaisalmer's annual desert festival was good.

I trundled into Jaisalmer on a rickety state bus on Wednesday afternoon. The bus journey was two hours longer than scheduled due to a flat tire. Fortunately the driver was carrying a spare on the roof. (Question: How many Indians does it take to change a tire? Answer: Fifteen.. One to change the tire and fourteen to gather round, shout, and smoke beedies.)

Jaisalmer's centrepiece is a hill-top fort. Approaching the town, the fort looks like a perfectly made sand castle that has been patted out of a bucket on the horizon. Much of the town is spread around the fort and panders to the tourist trade. The fort itself is a living breathing antique. Guest houses and hotels occupy many of the sandstone buildings amid Jain temples and handicraft boutiques. Cow bells jingle as they’re carried over cobbles by their lumbering owners. Piglets appear from drains and dogs captivate tourists by play fighting and occasionally mating in the busy market square.

There are a lot of tourists here for the festival, which has lasted three days and has been spread across several sites in Jaisalmer and the surrounding Thar Desert. I have spent my time here with my friend Matthew John, and some other travelers he has picked up on his three month journey through India. I have also bumped into several familiar faces who I met in Jodhpur.

I caught a fair amount of the festival, mostly in the evenings. ‘Foreign tourists’ are segregated from ‘Indian tourists’ in the viewing arenas and Jaisalmer’s stadium by wooden fences. The foreign tourists spread out on blankets and take in the music and dancing, next to a packed area for the natives. The traditional Rajasthani music and dancing on stage was enthralling as the sun charmed festival goers with its beautiful disappearing act behind the desert’s sloping dunes.

Today, me and Matt spent a good four hours downloading the new Radiohead album. Despite being hampered by patchy internet connections we finally managed, and I’m looking forward to listening to its eight tracks on my train journey tonight. My train leaves Jaisalmer at 22.45 and arrives at Bikaner at 04.15. Nice. I’m in Bikaner for one night before catching a train back to Jaipur where I’ll jump straight on a state bus to Bundi.

In other news, I’ve parted company with Nikki, Joe and Hisako and, now that Matt has caught his bus to Jaipur, I am traveling solo. I’ve been in India for two weeks now and I’m not scheduled to leave Rajasthan for at least another ten days. So, despite originally anticipating spending around two months here, I think it will be a little longer. India’s big, takes time, and I’m in no rush.

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